According to the Tea Detective, statistics show that approximately 98% of the tea brewed in the USA uses tea bags, 96% in the UK, and a substantial percentage of the world’s population use one when brewing their morning cup of tea.
Manufacturers now need to keep up with consumer demand, new brewing devices and company marketing departments’ demands for novel tea bags to differentiate brands. This means manufactures now have to consider not just the shape and style of the tea bag used, but also the material it’s made from, along with the production process itself. There are so many choices in bag design, including:
- single or double chamber bag
- with or without string and tag
- round, square, rectangular paper cushion, or pyramid
- made from: cotton muslin, gauze, non-bio-degradable nylon, silk or cornstarch”soilon.”
- sealed using staples, glue, or with ultrasound?
The majority of today’s tea bags are made with plastics. Some are nylon, some are viscose rayon, and others are thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene.
THE TEA BAG – HOW IS IT MADE?
Most tea bags are made with a variety of plastics – such as food grade nylon, PVC, ‘polypropylene‘, which when heated, melt and act as a sealant to help the bag retain its shape in boiling water.
The molecules in plastics begin to break down at the ‘glass transition’ temperature point (Tg) which is always lower than the melting point required to seal the tea bags, thereby allowing the bags to leach compounds of unknown health hazards into your tea when steeped in boiling water.
Paper tea bags – epichlorophydrin:
To improve “wet strength” paper, tea bags are treated with epichlorophydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins. Epichlorohydrin hydrolyses to ‘3-MCPD’ when contact with water occurs. ‘3-MCPD’ is a carcinogen and shown to cause cancer in animals, impair fertility, and weaken immune function.
- Tea bags aren’t the only product treated with epichlorohydrin you should be aware of – coffee filters, sausage casings and water filters are also treated.
Paper tea bag – bleaching:
Tea bags that are typically made from both wood and vegetable pulp are usually chlorine-bleached to make the bag whiter, resulting in small amount of toxic chlorine compounds ending up in the tea bag paper.
- To avoid chlorine toxicity, some companies are using only teabags from non-chlorine (oxygen) bleached teabag paper which is made of completely non-bleached paper. This process forces oxygen between the fibers to make them appear whiter.
- Up until the late 1990s, Elementary Chlorine (Cl2) was used for pulp bleaching resulting in toxic organochlorine byproducts produced like chloroform, dioxin, furans etc.
- Nowadays Chlorine Dioxide (ClO2)– Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) Bleaching is used in pulp bleaching instead of elementary chlorine. This process results in by far the less amount of dioxins in the pulp. However, paper bleached with chlorine dioxide is still not completely chlorine free as some paper manufacturers may claim.
- Totally Chlorine Free (TFC) bleaching uses no chlorine compounds in bleaching procedure and only virgin wood pulp is used. Bleaching chemicals used – peracetic acid (CH3COOOH), oxygen (O2), ozone (O3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) – produce no chlorine byproducts.
- Bleached containers and filters can leach dioxins into milk, coffee, and other foods with which they come into contact
Polylatic Acid (PLA):
- Derived from plants (usually corn starch or sugar cane, most likely GMO). PLA is not the same as traditional thermoplastics that rely on petroleum as a base.
- Plastics that are derived from biomass (e.g. PLA) are known as “bioplastics.”
- PLA is generally regarded as safe by the FDA when used in contact with food.
- “Its low glass transition temperature (Tg point- refer above) makes many types of PLA (for example, plastic cups) unsuitable to hold hot liquid” indicates it is not the best option for use in tea bags. *
- Bioplastic items are made using 3D-printers, which can contain other chemicals that can contaminate bioplastics during production.
- There seems to be some confusion on PLA – many sites list it as biodegradable however Bioshepeplastic.com list PLA as degradable not biodegradable.]
Manila Hemp (Abaca Fibre):
- Abaca is a native plant to the Philippines and a close relative of the banana.
- It’s durable fibres are widely used for paper and rope production.
- It is biodegradable and a sustainable fibre.
- Considered the strongest of natural fibres, being three times stronger than sisal fibre, and is far more resistant to saltwater decomposition than most of the vegetable fibres.
- Compared to synthetic fibres like rayon and nylon, abaca fibre possesses higher tensile strength and lower elongation in both wet and dry states
- Even organically grown and harvested tea might be found in tea bags that are made from plastic, GMO corn and bleached paper.
- It is recommended that mould allergy sufferers avoid bagged teas, no matter what kind of tea is inside, and choose loose-leaf tea instead. As the tea bag fabric is not sterilised with high heat, and it can catch and harbour mould and yeast spores from the surrounding air. The tea bag is therefore able to contaminate any tea that is put into it.
Scroll down to TEA BRANDS to see what you favourite tea brand are using!
- Buy loose leaf tea and brew your own tea from scratch.
- Use a teapot, a plunger, infuser (glass or stainless steel) refer recommendations below. Avoid plastic or silicone.
- FYO unbleached organic tea bags (Fill Your Own)
- MYO unbleached organic tea bags using cotton muslin fabric and 100% cotton thread to sew your own reusable tea bags (MYO=Make Your Own)
- If you choose bagged tea (remember loose leaf is better), buy ethical brands that state their bags are plastic/epichlorohydrin and bleach-free.
- If you have to use conventional white, green & black teas – steeping for more than three minutes can potentially increase heavy metal infusion, particularly lead and aluminium. As a general rule, steep white tea for one to three minutes and green and black tea for three minutes.
WHICH TEA INFUSER IS SAFEST?
I have to admit that some of the quirky silicon tea infusers are very cute and inviting. However has there been enough research done to guarantee their safety?
Nicole Bijlmsa author of ‘Healthy Home Healthy Family’ reports several studies that have investigated the migration of chemicals from silicone products. Most have found no migration of siloxanes except when the silicone product is in contact with fatty foods. She notes that she chooses not to use silicone.
Why would you use silicone infusers, that could put you at risk when there are perfectly nifty non-toxic stainless steel options.
WHERE DO I FIND UNBLEACHED TEA BAGS AND FYO BAGS?
Are you drinking safe-tea?
Is your tea brand pesticide, chlorine and epichlorohydrin free?
While researching content for his blog I came across Eva from the Kind Planet who had already done a bunch of research of many of the tea brands. As I’m not into duplicating effort, particularly when the original effort was so tremendous, I decided to share Eva’s information and her comments below. Please refer to Eva’s blog for more information, The Tea Industry’s Dirty Little Secret.
I have added to Eva’s list as I have come across addition information and popped in a few companies who provide only certified loose tea . I will continue to update this list.
If you are only looking for plastic free and not concerned about the bleaching or epichlorohydrin treatment then 1 Million Women have the list for you! ‘A Guide To Plastic Free Tea‘.
- Certified Organic, 100% unaltered, organic, and wildcrafted teas made from the freshest herbs and tea leaves
- Packaged in bleach-free bags.
- Crafted without artificial or natural flavourings.
- Free Shipping on Order +$50 in USA
- All of our teas are free of pesticides and artificial flavours and organically grown.
- USDA Certified organic loose tea only
- Teabags are chlorine-free and they use an oxygen whitening process.
- The teabag is made from food grade cotton, soy and acrylic (plastic). They would not confirm whether or not they use epichlorohydrin or 3-MCPD.
- The bags are made from oxygen washed manila fibers ( from Abaca plant) with no polluting whiteners used.
- Once filled, the bags are crimped and sealed with 100% cotton string. No staples, plastics, or glue are ever used.
- Their organic teabags are staple-free made with 100% unbleached natural paper/abaca fibers sewn shut with an unbleached natural cotton string and paper tag.
- Free of Epichorlohydrin is used for “wet strength.” Supposedly non-detectable (less than 2 parts per billion present).
- Chlorine-free bleaching process, and no Epichlorohydrin in final product (could still be used).
- Teabags (filter paper) are made from natural components and the primary component is Abaca or manila hemp. They did not know what the “natural components” are in the filter paper. They didn’t know what their string is made out of or what kind of metal their staple is made from either.
- pesticide-free and non-GMO verified
- Teabag made from manila hemp & cellulose (non-GMO verified), aluminium food-grade staple, & teabag/string/tag do not contain any plastics.
- free of epichlorohydrin – for tea bag to achieve wet strength, they cross-link epichlorohydrin with a polyamide polymer, which when linked, causes a reaction that uses up all of the epichlorohydrin chemical. They have had their suppliers perform tests to make sure that no epichlorohydrin remains in the tea bags and they have verification that their tea bags contain no traces of this agent.
- Tea bag tags are made from 100% recycled material and soy-based inks.
- Don’t use flavours in ANY of their teas. The taste is from actual herbs, fruits and oils.
- The tea bags are made of a non-heat sealable unbleached tissue comprised of cellulosic fibers (most likely wood pulp).
- The sachet tea bag material complies with the FDA 21CFR regulation for direct food contact. The material is 100% PLA and does not contain Epichlorhydrin or 3-MCPD. However, the string & tag tea bags uses a wet strength agent that contains an epichlorohydrin compound, but no free epichlorohydrin or 3-MCPD has been detected in final product.
- There are no synthetic ingredients in the pulp that is used to make the tea filter papers. They are made from plant cellulose fibers. Cotton yarn is used to secure the tab.
- Only ECF (elemental chlorine free) bleached paper pulps are used for the production of the filter paper.
- The tea filter paper used for Gaia Herb teas do not contain epichlorohydrin per written documentation by the supplier of the paper.
- Pouches are made from polylactic acid (PLA) – * refer comments above.
- Each tea bag is stitched with 100% unbleached cotton using a proprietary process. They do not use staples or glue to seal the pouches.
- “PLA has been proven to show no trace evidence of epichlorohydrin and/or other phthalates that can be found in petroleum based plastics and nylon. Further, testing shows no recordable levels of leaching in water temperatures up to the boiling point (212 F) for a duration of 30 minutes.”
- They said that I may also want to “consider using loose leaf teas to eliminate any question of potential contamination, leaching or molecular breakdown from tea bag materials including paper pouches.”
- Tea bag made from organic manila hemp that is coated with a highly purified polyamide epichlorohydrin-based resin. The polymer resin bonds into the paper as an inert (non- reactive) substance, making it strong enough to withstand very hot water; the same is done for many coffee filters.
- The staple is made from food grade, non-reactive, stainless steel, and the string is made from unbleached cotton fiber.
- Tea bag is made from abaca and wood pulp.
- Tea bag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, un-bleached cotton.
- The teabags are not heat sealed; therefore they do not require a glue of any kind to keep them closed.
- Epichlorohydrin is used in the manufacturing process, but supposedly not present in the finished product.
- Rishi’s certified organic line is bagged with PLA—polylactic acid, creating “silken” bags. Unlike other “silky” bags, which can be made with PET plastic, these are corn- and potato starch-based.
- Their Fiber Loose Leaf Tea Filters are made without glue or any other binding agent.
- Unbleached tea bags. Made from 100% cellulose fibers (wood pulp) and is made to appear white by forcing air between the fibers.
- Staples made from aluminum and coated with a proprietary food grade coating (they could not tell me what this was).
- The filter paper is not coated with the compound epichlorohydrin, and does not contain any free epichlorohydrin.
- Stash tea bag filter paper is machine folded and pressed, therefore no glue is needed or used and thermoplastics are not used.
- The bag is made from oxygen-whitened hemp cellulose.
- The tea bags tested negative for epichlorohydrin, but could contain Epiresin.
- Don’t use flavors in ANY of their teas. The taste is from actual herbs, fruits and oils.
- Both their pyramid and round tea bag options are made of unbleached, compostable materials that are chemical-free.
- No tags, strings, staples or extra packaging for our tea bags, so we’re able to deliver convenience with less waste.
- Our tea bags contain only fresh, flavorful, artisan-produced tea leaves.
- Certified organic loose tea only
- made from 100% unbleached, unseeded cotton (*not organic)
- 100% sustainable and compostable (apart from care label)
- Ethically and Fair Trade produce (SEDEX)
- Tea bag is made from cellulose (wood pulp) and it goes through a chlorine-free bleaching process.
- No staple, and they were not sure if they use an adhesive or not to attach the string to the bag.
- Epichlorohydrin-free (could still be used).
- Teabag made from manila hemp and wood pulp.
- The string on the bag is made from non-GMO verified cotton, and they do not use any chemical sealants. They say they use an environmentally-friendly non-chlorine bleaching process. I’m guessing they use an oxygen whitening process?
- They wouldn’t confirm whether they use of Epichlorhydrin or 3-MCPD.
- Tea bags are a mixture of manila hemp (Abaca) and wood pulp (cellulose).
- Tea bags use a non-heat sealable paper
- “Tea bags filtration paper is oxygen bleached using natural process that is free of chemicals or toxins including dioxin”
- “We can ensure you on the basis of our batch-related analyses certificates from accredited laboratories that this potentially toxic substance (3-MCPD) is not found in our teabags.”
Read the next blog in the series: Part 3 – SUGAR, MILK, WATER POLLUTANTS?
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